St. Theresa’s “Church of the Little Flower” has a varied and humble history. Her origins began at a time in history shorty after the time of the death of her patroness St. Therese of Lisieux, who had a great love for missionaries and the small missions that they served. While wanting to be a missionary herself, the cloistered Carmelite nun vowed that one day when she went to heaven, she would fly to the missions and assist them with her prayers. She wrote in her autobiography, “There will be no longer any cloister and grilles and my soul will be able to fly with you into distant lands.” The building of our church coincided with the 1927 declaration of Pope Pius XI as he named her the patroness of the missions.
The following is an excerpt from the Southern Cross Newspaper- Diocese of Savannah, Georgia:
“Mrs. J.J. Lynch of Atlanta erected the new Church of the Little Flower at a cost of $22,000, plus the furnishings cost of $3,000 were given by other friends of the missions of the state by her generous assistance to the missionary priests. She has visited eight Sunday missions in Southwest Georgia and many of the weekday missions. She has attended Mass in little rooms in the homes of Catholics where there was no church and journeyed over muddy, slippery roads from one distant mission to another.
The beautiful Church of the Little Flower was dedicated April 26th (1931) by Rt. Rev. Michael J. Keyes, D.D., Bishop of Savannah. Assisting Bishop Keyes were the pastor, Rev. Thos. A. Brennan, of Albany, Georgia who built the church, Father Dan McCarthy, pastor at Columbus, Rev. Joseph F. Croke, rector of Cathedral in Savannah and chancellor, Rev. Thos. I. Sheehan, of Albany, Georgia, Rev. Herman J. Deimel, Administrator of Willacoochee, Rev. Felix J. Clarkson, S.J., pastor of St. Joseph’s Church, Macon, Rev. A. Barthlen, S.M.A., pastor of St. Peter’s Church, Macon, GA., and Rev. Paul Milde, O.S.B., Savannah.
Immediately after the dedication, Solemn High Mass was sung by Father Brennan, assisted by Father Paul as deacon, Father Deimel as sub-deacon, and Father Sheehan, master of ceremonies. The chaplains to Bishop Keyes were Father Clarkson and Father Croke. Solemn Benediction was given by Bishop Keyes. The acolytes were John Mock and William Mock, the censor bearer, Ryan Mock; torch bearers, Thomas O’Connor, Joseph Smith, William Glass and James Crawford, all of Albany, Georgia.
The most impressive sermon was preached by Rev. Dan J. McCarthy of Columbus, Georgia. The Albany choir under the direction of Mrs. R.E. McCormick rendered beautiful music. Miss Helen Rixey of Albany played the organ.
Ms. J.J. Lynch, donor of the church, was present. After the Benediction a dinner was given at the Women’s Club Tea Room in Cordele, Georgia, to 63 people including the clergy.
This splendid church is the second such gift of Mrs. Lynch to the Dioceses of Savannah. Three years ago Mrs. Lynch erected St. John’s Church in Valdosta, GA. in memory of her husband. The church in Cordele is in memory of her departed relatives and Bishop Keiley. Both mark steps forward in the Southwest Georgia Missions. There are eight Sunday Missions under Father Brennan, pastor, and Father Thomas I. Sheehan, assistant pastor, and each Sunday Mission now has a church. Mass is offered twice a month in Cordele.
Among other things, Father McCarthy said in his sermon: “This church has been erected to the honor and glory of Almighty God and in honor of God’s chosen friend, St. Therese of the Child Jesus, who has been proclaimed Patroness of the Missions by our present Holy Father, Pope Pius, the Missionary Pope. Erected and built in the center of our Missionary vineyard, the state of Georgia, may many faithful souls be attracted to worship in this beautiful temple…The Dioceses of Savannah is truly grateful to Mrs. J.J. Lynch for her generosity of soul, in making this beautiful temple possible. May God bless her and may St. Therese unite her prayers in heaven to ours this day that a shower of God’s choicest gifts come upon Mrs. Lynch.”
Father McCarthy offered his sincere congratulations to Father Brennan, who did not spare himself personally superintending the building of this beautiful church. Father Brennan was the contractor and bought all the materials for the building. Cletus W. Bergen A.I.A. of Savannah, was the architect who designed the church. It was the first church designed by Mr. Bergen, and Mr. Dan Sheehan of Savannah, who did the interior designing, served the mass. They and Father Brennan were classmates at Benedictine College in Savannah. The electrical work was done by the Industrial Company, by Julian Gazan of Savannah. The cut stone was furnished by the Cut-Art Company of Savannah. The hardware was furnished by the Neal Blun Company of Savannah all the brick and masonry work was under Fred Dillman of Macon, GA.
The beautiful Altars, Stations of the Cross, and statutes were designed by the Bernadini Statuary Company of New York City. Over the altar, there is a beautiful stained glass window depicting the Crucifixion of our Lord, and the Blessed Mother and St. John at the foot of the cross. This was also designed by the Bernadini Statuary Company of New York. There are twenty-four beautiful pews furnished by the Manitowoc Church Furniture Company of Waukesha, Wisconsin, through their representative, J. Harry Persse of Savannah. The church will seat 200.
The flooring throughout is of oak. The eight windows are equipped with Cathedral glass and copper screens, a beautiful wood screen adorns the rear of the choir. There are three entrances from the vestibule, with two main and two supplementary side doors. Immediately over the entrance is a statue of the Little Flower valued at $1100. The church is heated by steam; H.F. Corbett of Cordele furnished the plumbing and heating. The color scheme is walnut, with walls of ivory. J.B. Dunneck of Baltimore was the superintendent assisting Father Brennan in the erection of the church but he was called home before its completion. John M. Mock of Savannah completed it.” May 16th, 1931
In the years following Priests from Albany and Americus came to minister to the mission parish. Jesuits from St. Joseph Church in Macon and priests from Columbus also came to minister. St. Theresa was a mission parish until Fr. Pat Adams, OFM, was assigned to be in residence in 1966 and it became recognized as a parish. Fr. Adams served for 26 years and was followed by Fr. Ken Gilley (1992 – 1993), Fr. Frank Berry (1993 – 1996), Fr. Raul Perez (1996 – 2000), Fr. Victor Seidel (2000 – 2001), Fr. Ifeanyi Iwu (2001 – 2002), Fr. Lawrence Lucree (2002 – 2006), Fr. Bob Cushing (2006 – 2013), Fr. Scott Winchel (2013- 2016), and Fr. Paulinus Okpala (2016 – present date).
St. Theresa is a multicultural parish today and is home to many Hispanics and Vietnamese people as well as Americans. These newcomers of the last dozen years have brought their own unique gifts and spirituality to this community of faith. The legacy of the Vietnamese members reflects a vibrant faithfulness that sustained them in the long sojourn of suffering and exile from their homeland. Their resourcefulness and determination strengthen the parish.
The Hispanic members are from many lands, yet Our Lady of Guadalupe speaks for our Mexican members and for all of us of the special inculturation of our Catholic faith in the history of our peoples. Humble family faith has sustained our immigrant church and encouraged us to learn from one another’s gifts.
On the night of November 7th, 2009, St. Theresa’s suffered a fire that did extensive damage to the sacristy and sanctuary. The fire erupted shortly after the end of a Confirmation Mass. Masses were held for the next seven months at the Rainey Funeral Chapel for the English Mass, and the Parish Hall for Spanish Mass. There was a great outpouring of support from other Catholic Communities as well as numerous churches and businesses. Because of the support our “Church of the Little Flower” was restored to her former beauty. Masses resumed in the church on Father’s Day 2010.
On June 30th, 2012, a son of St. Theresa’s Church of the Little Flower, Fr. Jason Adams, was ordained a priest for the Diocese of Savannah.